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Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday met in the Vatican on Wednesday with a group of Palestinian Catholics, who presented him with traditional Palestinian scarf as a gift.

The 27 faithful from a Bethlehem parish were among thousands attending the pope's weekly Wednesday audience in St. Peter's Square.

At the end of the service, two youths from the group were brought to the pope and draped the checkered black-and-white scarf on his shoulders. Benedict chatted briefly with them while wearing the scarf, which an aide later removed.

Bethlehem is one of the stops on the May 8-15 Holy Land pilgrimage that will take Benedict to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. In Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, he will celebrate Mass and visit a Palestinian refugee camp.

Meanwhile Israeli Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov declared on Wednesday that he would urge the pope to avoid meeting with Sakhnin Mayor Mazen Ghnaim during his visit, due to Ghnaim's "support for terror."

Misezhnikov, of the rightist Yisrael Beiteinu party, said he would raise the issue during a Wednesday meeting with Vatican representatives in Israel.

"If the information about the meeting is correct, it stands in absolute contradiction to the purpose of the Pope's trip, which is to advance peace and dialogue between peoples and religions," Misezhnikov said.

"We're talking about a supporter of terror who instigates war and has acted against the interests of the state in which he serves as a mayor. I call on the Pope to avoid meeting with Ghnaim."

During the visit, Vatican and Israeli officials hope to ease the tensions that have erupted in recent months between the Catholic Church, Israel and the world Jewish community over the process to canonize Pope Pius XII.

Pius, who reigned from 1939 until his death in 1958, has been accused by some Jews of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust, a charge his supporters and the Vatican deny.